Edoardo Maria Ponti

To be or to have? Meaning as a function of valency in Finnish

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This work accounts for the syntactic structure and the semantic meaning of a group of copular sentences in Finnish, inside the paradigm of Generative Grammar. These sentences display a complex range of phenomena, which includes quirky subjects in partitive case and verbal agreement rejection. In previous works, existential and locative sentences were shown to be derivationally related. This paper demonstrates that this holds true also for Finnish, and that a different structure lies under possessive sentences instead. This is due to the presence of an additional argument, which is merged externally. This analysis is compatible to both possessive sentences where the owner is a subject of a transitive verb (as in English and Italian) and those where the owner is a location (as in Finnish). The evidence provided for the latter includes the fact that locations behave as subjects when bound anaphorically. Furthermore, the surface subject is marked with an accusative morpheme and undergoes a semantic alternation, similarly to Finnish objects. Finally, the paper suggests that it is possible to extend the current analysis to all the formal correlates of possessive sentences uncovered by typological studies (including the so-called with type and topic type). This implies that the tri-valent structure of possessive sentences, including an external argument, a theme and a location, is shared by many languages, notwithstanding their superficial variation.


  • Possession
  • Existence
  • Valency
  • Finnish


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